My journey began last June when I decided to sweep area high schools in an attempt to find teenagers who stood out in a crowd for being ambitious, unique and altogether, well, untypical. Several people have questioned what I mean by the word “untypical.” By definition, something untypical is “not having the distinctive qualities of a particular type of person.” This means students who have a talent, skill, passion or trade that makes them stand out among the hundreds of others in their schools.
I looked for students with some sort of activity or hobby that set them apart from the crowd. Not just athletic skills or participation in extracurricular activities, but something so different, so spectacular it kindles a drive for success that simply cannot be ignored.
One student immediately came to mind: Hunter Gentry, a fellow classmate at White Plains High School.
I knew I was going to have to hone in on every communication skill I’d ever learned to round up the rest of the untypical teens. I contacted principals, teachers, students and anyone else that might know of a student with a drive and dedication that would fit this category. As the series progressed, I found myself bombarded with emails from the principals, teachers and even parents who knew someone who did everything in their power to stand out from the rest.
Sometimes, there was a part of me that wasn’t very eager to grab my gear and spotlight someone else. Some days, I had no urge whatsoever to call someone’s neighbor’s sister's uncle's teacher who knew somebody at some school that would be perfect for the next article.
But with each interview I discovered a part of myself in the teen sitting in front of me. Each and every peer I met along the way served as an inspiration that, believe it or not, corresponded with something in my life I was dealing with at the time.
Hunter, a genealogy expert, taught me that pursuing something you care about takes every fiber of your being. Natalie, a senior at Jacksonville High and professional baker, proved there are other people who share a vision similar to mine — it's just a matter of finding them. Matt, a future farmer at Ohatchee High, demonstrated how the support of those around you make your goals much more attainable. Faith Christian soccer star Sydney taught me to not let any obstacle get in the way of ambition, and Georgia, a seamstress and costume designer at Sacred Heart, to stay focused on my dreams. The members of the Anniston High School Jazz Band wowed me with the realization that sometimes you have to contribute to a greater effort in order to see results. And Hannah, an equestrian at Piedmont High, reminded me to enjoy all the little things that lead to the finish line.
Now, almost a whole year later, I have made bonds with several groups of people from seven different high schools and from all walks of life. As I see the first installment of the Untypical Teens series come to a close, I have learned seven different lessons that shape who I am today — lessons that I have learned from teens I now call friends that have helped me reflect on myself as I prepare for a new phase of life.
What started as a simple freelancing opportunity has blossomed into a series that has allowed me a brief look into the lives of others. The Untypical Teens series has allowed me to see a mere snippet of how newspapers are run, given me connections to many people across the state, and helped me to make relationships that will last a lifetime.